Test Drive: Fostex FR-2 Field Memory Recorder

LOTS IN THE BOX

The FR-2 records mono or stereo digital audio in linear Broadcast Wave (.BWF) format. As mentioned, it records either 16 or 24 bit resolution, at sample rates of 22.050, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, or 192kHz.

Although the case is plastic, the FR-2 seems quite solid, and feels as if it could withstand anything short of a direct trip to a hard floor with little or no damage. All the switches are properly recessed except for the volume control, which can be push/clicked in for protection and push/clicked out again for use.

The front panel is dominated by the backlit 132 x 65 dot matrix LCD display, which is clear and easy to read. The top of the display features a double-size ABS (absolute) counter in hh:mm:ss format, while the bottom of the display is home to the left and right meters, the time and date, and a battery level indicator. The center of the display shows the current file name and the record time remaining. There’s no secondary information on the display to confuse you — the FR-2 uses a menu system to access that sort of thing.

The FR-2 is a fully hands-on device. There are no remote control inputs, infrared receivers, or footswitch inputs anywhere. Instead, Fostex has equipped this beast with dedicated buttons and knobs for all the things you need to do in a remote recording situation.

To the left of the display you’ll find the aforementioned Monitor knob for controlling the volume of both the internal speaker and the headphones, with the headphone jack just below. To the right of the display are the various buttons you’ll need to set and step through “cues” or markers in your recording, along with a combination data knob and Enter switch. Pushing on this knob takes you into the menu sections, where you can set preferences, format memory cards, choose the digital I/O format, and so on. Also of note here is a button to turn off the display backlight to save battery power, and another button to un-mount the memory card before removing it.

On the right side of the front are the concentric input level controls, Peak LEDs, the Record button, and the Record Standby button. Sliding the REC to the right will initiate recording at any time, no matter what mode the FR-2 is in. The REC STBY button serves to put the machine into “input monitor” mode, and also to stop recording (although there’s a STOP button on the top, you can’t use it to stop recording). Both these buttons are large and surrounded by guards that will keep them from being accidentally bumped, although the buttons themselves don’t feel as positive as I’d like them.

IN ‘N OUT

On the right side are the unit’s two balanced XLR inputs, which operate at either line or mic level. The line level input spec is nominally +4 dBu — perfect for connecting most pro gear. The mic level input spec is -68 dBu, which is sensitive enough for the vast majority of microphones. Phantom power is available on both inputs, and is activated with the small toggle next to the XLRs. Next to the XLR inputs are the analog outputs, both on gold-plated RCAs, with a nominal output level of +4 dBu.

Closest to the front panel on the right side is the power on/off switch, which takes the form of a momentary toggle switch. It looks cool, but requires that you study the display when turning the machine on to make sure you held the switch long enough. Below this are the two slots, one for a Type II Compact Flash memory card, and one for a PCMCIA ATA hard drive card. Two green LEDs next to the slots tell you when it’s okay to remove the memory card (you want to pay attention to these).

The left side of the FR-2 is where you’ll find XLR connectors for digital in and out, plus a USB-A connector for a PC keyboard and a USB-B connector for hooking the unit to a computer. Next to these is the DC input for use with the optional AC power supply. Also on the left is a removable panel for installing a timecode reader/generator, an option whose cost is estimated to be around $600 when it becomes available.

The transport buttons located on the top of the case take care of playback, including fast-forward and rewind. Above these are switches for setting the bit rate (quantization) and sample rate, for engaging the built-in limiter, and for turning pre-record on and off. When active, the pre-record function records constantly into a circular memory buffer whose length can be set as a preference. When actual recording begins, the contents of this buffer becomes the beginning of the actual recording, and ensures that you don’t miss anything at the beginning of an audio event.

Also on top is a built-in speaker for monitoring, and the controls for each of the two analog inputs. These include line/mic switches, trim controls, and high-pass filters that are fixed at 100Hz and 12 dB/octave. The trim controls cover a range of 34 dBu — from -30 to +4 when set to LINE, and from -60 to -26 when set to MIC.

The battery compartment is on the bottom of the FR-2, and judging by the latching scheme it’s clear that Fostex expects that this recorder will be abused. The cover is affixed with two plastic snaps on the door itself, as well as a coin-edge-size screw tab that keeps that cover closed in all eventualities. If you’re not going to use abuse the box then you can forego the screw tab, but it does provide an extra measure of safety.

Another nice touch is the inclusion of large rubber feet, four on the bottom and four on the back, that let the FR-2 rest easy on a tabletop. Snaps on both sides of the unit accept the included shoulder strap for more mobile use.

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